There’s a large section of the worldwide film-going audience who have no idea that S Craig Zahler exists. Bone Tomahawk, Riot in Cell Block 99 and Dragged Across Concrete all made an impact on critics and cult movie fans alike, but that mainstream breakthrough has proved elusive. But it will come; if you know anyone who claims to be bored with CGI, feels that modern films are not tough or realistic, and yearns for the days of Sam Peckinpah or Don Siegel, then advise them to buckle up, because S. Craig Zahler is going to be right up their alley. Dragged Across Concrete is a heist-gone-wrong movie that should leave viewers feeling as if they’ve been dragged across concrete; that 159 minute run-time is gruelling, but also exhilarating. Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn are two cops who get suspended by boss Lt Calvert (Don Johnson) for police brutality. Ridgeman (Gibson) has financial difficulties, and an armoured car robbery is mooted as one way out of the hole. Meanwhile Henry Johns (Tory Kittles) exits the slammer to find a changed world; unwisely, he signs up to be part of Ridgeman’s crew. Although Dragged Across Concrete is deliberately slow, it locates most of the drama within the action of the heist itself, making the action absorbing and frequently painful to watch; Zahler is clearly fascinated by violence, but he’s alert to the moral decay around it, and links each character in a series of death-grips that extend to the final scene. Udo Kier, Thomas Kretschmann and Fred Melamed contribute some short but telling cameos, and the whole vibe has a bleak, early 70’s vibe. Dragged Across Concrete is a tough, nasty crime-story, a jet-black shot of urban mayhem that should thrill even the most jaded thrill-seeker.
S. Craig Zahler is working on a fairly unique angle in American cinema; it’s hard to imagine he cares about test audiences or anything really, other than positioning himself at the modern day answer to Sam Fuller, Peckinpah or perhaps Edward Bunker. Vince Vaughn puts aside his avuncular Fred Claus schtick to play Bradley Thomas, a tough guy who gets sent to jail when a crystal meth job goes wrong and a cop is killed. Eight years in the slammer might sound bad enough, but a mysterious henchman (Udo Kier, who else?) gives Thomas an even darker goal; his son will be mutilated unless Thomas infiltrates the highest security area of the jail and kills a target. Thomas is transferred to the deadly Redleaf Facility, where Warden Tuggs (Don Johnson) is the main obstacle. A hellish journey through the uncharted depths of the US penal system, Brawl in Cell Block 99 is a brutal, uncompromising thriller that’s long and languid at times, but is compelling to watch. Vaughn has never been better than he is he, world-weary, but protective of his family, and fully aware that he’s on a suicide mission with a cost that’s hard to contemplate.
Jim Mickle’s follow-up to his apocalyptic vampire/road movie Stakeland is an authentically grubby thriller in two halves. The first is a home-invasion scenario, with Michael C Hall as Richard Dane, a family man whose life is turned upside down when he kills an ex-con who breaks into his house. This act sets him into conflict with the local police, and a second half in which he’s joined by Don Johnson and Sam Shepard for a men-on-a-mission drama about tracking down a seedy crime-ring. The two halves don’t quite gel, but both offer considerable entertainment, from the tight paranoia of the opening scenes to the buddy-buddy, all guns blazing finale.
Adapted from a sci-fi novel by Harlan Ellison, A Boy and his Dog is an unusually imaginative sci-fi movie from 1975. Actor briefly turned director LQ Jones also wrote the screenplay with Alvy Moore; the story takes place in an apocalyptic wasterland and concerns Vic (Don Johnson) who traverses the remains of planet earth with his telepathic dog Blood (Tiger, voiced by Tim McIntyre). Vic is lured into an underground bunker where there are plans to harness his virility for pre-creational purposes, and A Boy And His Dog sticks to its independent guns by having the survival of the human race low on Vic’s priorities. With dialogue taken often verbatim from Ellison’s novel, A Boy and His Dog is a smart antidote to big-budget sci-fi; it makes its points with satirical verve.